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Idiosyncrasies: On the Deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Shortly after posting an article by A. Thomas McLellan, PhD. in defense of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by heroin overdose to my Facebook page this evening, I heard the news about Robin Williams’ death by suspected suicide. The deaths of these two men this year have hit me equally hard. I didn’t know them personally, but I am familiar with their struggles. Those who have suffered from addiction and depression are likely to feel as I do and recognize those “idiosyncrasies that only [we] know about.”

What leaves me even more disheartened this evening than the news of Robin Williams’ death itself is the fact that few see the link between his tragic end and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s; fewer still can sympathize with these famous and enormously talented actors who the general public perceived to be living “the good life.”

Celebrations of Robin Williams’ life and accomplishments are splashed across media outlets this evening. His death by suicide is shocking to those who regaled the funnyman as simply the characters he played, rather than the man who lived in darkness that proved too difficult to endure. When mainstream media is done memorializing Williams’ life in artificial clips of the roles he played during his acting career, I predict a backlash over how someone so rich and famous could be sad enough to hang himself. I can already hear those ignorant to depression and addiction claiming he was a coward and my heart aches in anticipation of the callousness of questions like, “what did he have to be sad about?”

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose, the stigma over addiction to a drug like heroin prohibited the mass media parade that is following in the wake of Williams’ death this evening. In McLellan’s article, he poses this question regarding Hoffman’s death:

“I wonder how the media or the public would have reacted if Mr. Hoffman had passed away as a result of another disease that he had been struggling against for 23 years? Say cancer?”

to which I add, what if Hoffman had hung himself instead? What if instead of shooting heroin into his arms, he decided to hang himself like Williams did? I would like to point out that addiction is directly related to depression and vice versa. Do happy people or those without chemical imbalances seek reprieve in drugs like heroin, in excessive alcohol use, or in suicide attempts?

I see no difference in the deaths of Hoffman and Williams; to me their deaths were caused by the same internal struggles that manifested in slightly different ways. The fact that Williams had been in and out of rehab is mentioned as an afterthought instead of the culprit of his death. He wasn’t surrounded by bottles or pills or needles when his lifeless body was found in his home where he had been isolating–a term addicts know well–and so his addiction has been conveniently masked by the more socially accepted word “depression.” We want to remember him fondly, and we should. I just wish the same could have been done in the wake of Hoffman’s death.

Some may argue that Hoffman didn’t mean to kill himself; that his overdose was an accident. I know many addicts, myself included, who would tell you otherwise. Like Williams, Hoffman died alone in his home where he had been isolating. I’d hardly call that recreational use; when it comes to addiction, it never is. Every time an addict relapses it is inherently known that death is a probable outcome, regardless of how intentional. I see no difference between a noose and a needle.

I have much more to add about addiction, depression, and the creative talents of both Williams and Hoffman. But tonight my heart is heavy and I’d rather seek false comfort in that deceptive place called nostalgia and watch Williams, along with the rest of his fans, as “Sean,” the psychologist in Good Will Hunting than continue on my tirade.

3 thoughts on “Idiosyncrasies: On the Deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman

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